Welcome to “Road To Undisputed,” a series where I look at every weight class in boxing, look at the champions and contenders and map out a road to crowning an undisputed champion and the chances of it happening anytime soon.
This week, we’ll take a look at the super middleweights, where plans to crown its first-ever undisputed champion are in the works.
Here are the divisions covered so far:
- WBA “Super” and WBC: Canelo Alvarez
- WBA “Regular”: David Morrell
- WBO: Billy Joe Saunders
- IBF: Caleb Plant
- David Benavidez
- Anthony Dirrell
- Daniel Jacobs
- Zach Parker
- John Ryder
- Kyrone Davis
- Carlos Gongora
When discussing the middleweight division, there was this idea that the winner of Canelo Alvarez vs. Gennadiy Golovkin would be well on his way to unifying the entire 160-pound division. Obviously, that never happened, but it opened the door for another division being unified: the super middleweights.
After Alvarez’s legal issues with Golden Boy Promotions were unceremoniously resolved, it was clear he would be campaigning at super middleweight. But with no promotional ties, it was somewhat unclear what his immediate career direction would be. Enter Callum Smith, who was the WBA and Ring Magazine champion at 168 pounds less than five months ago.
The Mexican star returned to DAZN on an initial one-fight deal that would have him fight Smith in Texas, meaning involvement from Matchroom Boxing. Once Alvarez completely dominated Smith, it became abundantly clear what his goals were for 2021: become undisputed champion at super middleweight.
To do so, Alvarez would take another deal with Matchroom Boxing, creating a promotional link with the entity on a more official basis, but on a short, two-fight deal. The first fight saw him easily beat Avni Yildirim to win the vacant WBC world title. The second fight will have him fight WBO champion Billy Joe Saunders in May to unify three of the four major sanctioning body belts.
Although Alvarez is the favorite in this fight, Saunders is still (on paper) a potentially rough fight for Alvarez. Saunders is one of the most technically gifted super middleweights today and has a penchant for fighting at his best when the opposition demands him to do so. His win over David Lemieux several years back is a good indication. But for as good as Saunders’ skills look on paper, his recent performances leave a lot to be desired. At this point, one would need a knockout or at least one or two knockdowns to beat Alvarez and Saunders has not shown any otherworldly punching power that would give him a chance to do that.
While Alvarez and Saunders get ready to fight, one more champion is still waiting in the wings, seemingly on a collision course to fight the Alvarez vs. Saunders winner (preferably Alvarez): Caleb Plant.
Plant, the IBF champion, is a phenomenal fighter at super middleweight whose power and aggressive style at times can be best described as a buzz saw. Fights between Alvarez and Plant have been explored in the past to no avail. At this point, the hope from all sides is that Alvarez beats Saunders and then fights Plant on Mexican Independence Day weekend in mid-September to unify the entire division. We’ll touch on that in the next section.
Now, the trio of Alvarez, Plant and Saunders is a fantastic bunch of champions, but what about the rest of the division?
The one who is at the top of the contenders list is David Benavidez. From an in-ring standpoint, Benavidez is about as good as they come. He’s a very young puncher with devastating power that comes from non-stop pressure with the added ability of punishing opponents’ bodies with that pressure. Offensively, he’s arguably the best boxer in the world at super middleweight not named Canelo Alvarez. You add in the fact that Benavidez towers over most opponents physically and you have someone who can dominate most super middleweights today.
However, his discipline is most certainly something that is being questioned. He lost the WBC title the first time for failing a drug test. Then, he lost the belt again last year when he missed weight before a title defense. He will get another chance to fight for a super middleweight title down the road, there’s no question about that. It’s a matter of when he gets that fight. Does he fight Plant before the fated Alvarez fight or does Benavidez wait until late 2021-early 2022 for a title shot?
Other fighters to watch out for are Carlos Gongora, who made waves last year by shockingly knocking out Ali Akhmedov on DAZN. Gongora is a strong puncher with tremendous resiliency and willingness to trade with anyone in the division. He is certainly an under-the-radar fighter in terms of what the title picture looks like, but it doesn’t make him any less dangerous to face.
The rest of the division is filled with former champions who are either just about to leave their prime or no longer in their prime (Anthony Dirrell, Caleb Truax, Daniel Jacobs) or with prospects and rising stars still not ready for big fights (Edgar Berlanga, Kyrone Davis, David Morrell). Only a select few, such as John Ryder and Zach Parker, are in that weird space where they don’t belong in either camp that was noted. They wouldn’t exactly feel that out of place if they were in a title bout, but their lack of direction career-wise means that they will have to wait until 2022 at the very least to hope for a title shot.
What will it take to get an undisputed champion?
In less than two months, there will be only two major titleholders at super middleweight. The winner of Alvarez vs. Saunders will be in control of the WBA, WBO and WBC titles while Plant will have the IBF title.
If Alvarez beats Saunders (which is the expected result), the natural course of events would mean a showdown with Plant to crown an undisputed champion in September. That’s always been the plan Alvarez set for himself entering 2021.
If we’re being honest, the odds of an undisputed champion being crowned by the end of this year seem favorable, though not a guarantee as some hope. To properly paint a picture of how the landscape looks like, it’s best to hypothetically assume Alvarez does beat Saunders.
Having Alvarez fight Plant is not an impossible task. After all, camps for both fighters did briefly explore such a bout in the past. However, it never felt like there was enough time to progress talks to the point a deal can be made. After May, both sides will have multiple months to sit down and get something going.
What helps is the fact that Alvarez will be a free agent the moment his fight against Saunders ends, especially if Alvarez wins that fight. He could potentially explore a deal with PBC that would have him potentially fight Plant, even on a FOX pay-per-view.
However, therein lies the potential roadblock. Alvarez has previously stated that he is no longer interested in signing long-term promotional deals. He understands why that’s not a wise move for someone of his notoriety. In the span of a few short months, Alvarez got a taste of what promotional freedom can do for him and he enjoys living that (for lack of a better word) bachelor-like life he leads as a promotional free agent, signing short-term deals and not committing to anything long-term.
For Alvarez, it’s a great feeling to have, but it doesn’t mean that PBC will simply abide by Alvarez’s wishes.
It’s no secret that having Alvarez in your stable makes it a significantly hotter property, but bringing Alvarez on a PBC platform to fight once against Plant may not be what the Al Haymon-led company has in mind. It wouldn’t be surprising to see PBC want to lock down Alvarez for more than a year and have that be a sticking point in negotiations. It also wouldn’t be surprising to see PBC be willing to cash out on a massive event with Alvarez in September on a one-and-done deal.
Things are at a standstill on the PBC side of things until we see how Alvarez vs. Saunders plays out in early May. If all the stars align, an undisputed champion will be crowned in less than six months. If not, then December could end up as the next target date. There’s a lot of moving parts right now and a lot of time between May and September.
A deal can be reached between Alvarez and Plant. There’s no question about that. It’s all a matter of Alvarez and PBC finding a happy medium to get a deal going that would make for a great undisputed title fight later this year.
Chances of there being an undisputed champion in the next 18 months: 60%